Huskies aim to bounce back from a tough loss while Rainbow Warriors shoot for a third Pac-12 win
A lightning delay pushed the finale of Washington's Pac-12 opener vs. Cal to the wee hours of Sunday morning, at which time the Golden Bears pulled a massive upset of the Huskies for the second time in as many seasons.
After losing to Cal in October 2018, Washington didn't lose again until the Rose Bowl. Can the Huskies repeat this more positive bit of recent history? The process begins in Week 3 with a return to non-conference competition, against an opponent already boasting two more Pac-12 wins than UW, Hawaii.
UH alum Nick Rolovich reintroduced the high-flying style that shaped the Rainbow Warriors in the 2000s, and his approach is starting to pay dividends similar to last decade. They won eight games in 2018 and come into '19 contenders for the Mountain West Conference's West division title. Hawaii's been a big contributor to the Mountain West's Power 5 success over the first two(ish) weeks of the season, and have a chance to score arguably the biggest win for the conference this year.
Hawaii at Washington
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Washington -21
When Hawaii Has the Ball
Quarterback Cole McDonald, last season's breakout star for the Rainbow Warriors, came out slinging in Week 0 against Arizona, but a series of misreads leading to interceptions prompted his benching. It was short-lived; McDonald returned to the lineup in Week 2 vs. Oregon State, and threw four touchdowns with only interception this time around.
McDonald's a capable dual-threat playmaker, which isn't to say he won't air it out at a high rate. His 99 attempts through two games make for a brisk pace as he's set to surpass the 484 times he threw in 2018 — which were still enough to finish ranked fifth in the nation.
Such a prolific passing attack requires a deep rotation of receivers, and Hawaii has that. Cedric Byrd scorched Arizona in Week 0 for 224 yards and four touchdowns, but deferred last week to JoJo Ward. Ward put up 189 yards and four touchdowns.
The diversity and quality of Hawaii's wide receiving corps might be a challenge for a Washington secondary still early in its transition from losing top-tier talents Taylor Rapp and Byron Murphy. Still, the Huskies have one of the nation's premier playmakers in Myles Bryant. Of interest is if the secondary, or any of Washington's defensive units, generate some turnovers.
Washington failed to against Cal, and losing the turnover battle proved costly in last week's 20-19 loss. One reason could be the pass rush. Last year, when Pete Kwiatkowski and Jimmy Lake split defensive coordinating duties for the first time, the Huskies employed a more conservative approach to blitzing than in year's past. It was an effective strategy; Washington's defense remained one of the stingiest in the nation, and the best against the pass. The Huskies flourished against pass-heavy offenses, too, so how it fares against Hawaii will be an interesting barometer for Pac-12 matchups with opponents like USC and Washington State.
When Washington Has the Ball
After a marvelous debut against an overmatched Eastern Washington, quarterback Jacob Eason's performance Week 2 was subdued. His yards per attempt average plummeted from 9.7 to 5.4 yards, he threw no touchdowns and completed 60 percent of his passes; 15 percent fewer than in the opener. Credit goes to the outstanding Cal defense, in particular, its lock-down secondary.
Still, the hope with Eason taking over the offense was that Washington would showcase a more prolific, vertical passing attack. That wasn't the case against Cal. Perhaps Eason will uncork more of the long balls against Hawaii that filled his Week 1 highlight reel. In the meantime, Salvon Ahmed's showing Week 2 is a positive development from which to build. He rushed for a career-high 119 yards and scored a touchdown. After Artavis Pierce and Jermar Jefferson of Oregon State gouged Hawaii's defense, Washington offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan may be content letting Ahmed and Richard Newton go to work in the run game to set up Eason for the pass.
Hawaii's defensive line is smaller and relies on speed, making for a unique matchup against Washington's stout offensive line.
A second consecutive loss to Cal may be deflating, particularly at home. But last year's finish is also a blueprint for a Washington bounce-back. The Huskies won't routinely play games that end at 1 a.m. PT, for what it's worth. Regardless of kickoff time, the offensive needs to be more consistent. That shouldn't be a problem against Hawaii.
Hawaii's offense has enough weapons to keep things interesting, but Washington's advantages should eventually overwhelm the visitors as the Huskies get back on track.
Prediction: Washington 42, Hawaii 20
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.